COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Jeff Driskel made his first true start as Florida’s quarterback on Saturday. Expect quite a few more.
After beating out fellow sophomore Jacoby Brissett for the job, coach Will Muschamp said he didn’t want Driskel looking over his shoulder as the Gators traveled to College Station for Texas A&M’s Southeastern Conference debut in rowdy Kyle Field.
If Driskel had any nerves or hesitance on the road, it didn’t show. Despite going down 17-7 early in the game, Driskel remained calm and led the Gators to a comeback 20-17 win in what would normally be an imposing environment for an inexperienced quarterback.
Still, Driskel said he wasn’t overwhelmed and said it was easy to maintain composure despite falling behind early.
“That wasn’t hard at all,” he said. “Our guys really kept their composure the whole game. … No one hung their head, no one was pointing fingers at each other.”
He can thank Mike Gillislee and the Gators’ rushing attack for the help. Florida leaned on the run Saturday, putting the ball on the ground on 40 of its 65 offensive snaps. But that’s the point. With a sophomore at quarterback and a defense that finished in the top 10 nationally a season ago, Muschamp doesn’t feel the need to take chances through the air.
Driskel gets that.
“Our mentality is still going to be to run the ball hard, run the ball downhill,” he said.
Against the Aggies, Driskel was accurate, completing 13 of 16 passes for 162 yards. Most important, he didn’t turn the ball over. He made smart decisions with the football. However, it would be easy to criticize Driskel for holding onto the ball too long in the pocket, something he readily admitted after getting sacked eight times on the afternoon.
“We knew they were going to pressure,” he said. “I’ve got to get rid of the ball, throw the ball away if I have to. I have to work on that a little bit.”
Three of the sacks came when Driskel ran out of bounds behind the line of scrimmage, and Muschamp had a different, slightly humorous, take on the number of sacks Driskel took.
“There’s good sacks, too,” Muschamp said. “There’s nothing wrong with ending the series with a punt. I know that’s not allowed to be said at Florida, but there’s nothing wrong with that.”
Muschamp wants the Gators’ identity to be one of a smart, disciplined football team that crams the football down an opponent’s throat even when they know what’s coming. He made that clear following the game. And that’s why Driskel and his ability to manage the offense is the right fit. Being tough doesn’t hurt his cause, either.
“They asked me after the game what did you learn about Jeff Driskel and I said, ‘Nothing,’ ” Muschamp said. “I knew it going into the game. The guy’s a tough guy. He plays through it. … I didn’t learn anything that I didn’t already know. I mean that as a very big compliment to him.”
Those words are a vote of confidence, words of a coach who believes in his quarterback, even if he has just one real start under his belt. The reason? Driskel executed the game plan and he came through big in crunch time.
Florida entered the fourth quarter still trailing 17-13. After throwing mostly short, underneath routes for much of the game, Driskel completed a 39-yard pass to senior Omarius Hines on a perfectly thrown ball, showing he also has the ability to stretch the field. Gillislee scored the go-ahead touchdown two plays later, but the game wasn’t over.
Florida got the ball back with 3:13 remaining, needing to run the ball to drain the clock. On second-and-10 from the UF 45 following an A&M timeout, Driskel decided to keep the ball on a read-option play and ran for 21 yards into Aggies’ territory to help secure the win. There was little left to do but take a knee.